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Road to the Final Four: Louisville

by Photo of Taylor Armosino

How Louisville reached the Final Four from the West Region.

Road to the Final Four: Louisville

Could Louisville be a team of destiny? Is this team UConn part II? They certainly could be. Despite their lack of a true primetime star, the Louisville Cardinals are the Cinderella team of this year's tournament. Louisville has played fantastic defense on their path to New Orleans. In their 4 tournament games, Louisville has given up just 57.5 points per game. Offensively, the Cardinals play team basketball. There is no Kemba Walker on this team to carry them. Freshman forward Chane Behanan has been the Cardinals leading scorer, averaging 14 ppg in Louisville's four games. Reserve guard Russ Smith has also been an offensive spark, averaging 13.5 ppg. 

Louisville's story is awesome. The Cardinals were a good regular season team, but they weren't exactly anybody's pick to reach the Final Four. Like National Champion UConn last season, Louisville surprised many and won the Big East Tournament. The Cardinals won the Big East in lavish fashion. Two of their victories were double digit wins over Marquette and Notre Dame. Louisville has ridden their momentum into this tournament. Throughout the season, Louisville has been the best defensive team in the country. That is not opinion, that is fact. Louisville boasts a defensive adjusted rating of 84 per 100 possessions, best in college basketball. In the tournament, that defense has been fantastic.

The Cardinals faced off with 13th seeded Davidson in their first matchup of the tournament. Louisville's ferocious defense held Davidson to 62 points on 35% shooting. Davidson's Jake Cohen scored 24 points on 9/19 shooting, but the Cardinals allowed the rest of Davidson's club to score just 38 points on 12/41 shooting. Offensively, Louisville was spear headed by guards Peyton Siva, 17 points, Kyle Kuric, 13 points and forward Chane Behanan who scored 14 points. The game was never that close in the 2nd half and Louisville won, in non-dramatic fashion, 69-62.

Louisville's second tournament game pitted a matchup of two similar teams. The fifth seeded New Mexico Lobos, like Louisville, play a scrappy, defensive style of basketball. The Cardinals shot 45% but the slow tempo of the game only allowed them to score 59 points. Defensively, the Cardinals were once again dominant. New Mexico's perimeter shooting was smothered all night as they shot only 5/23 from outside the arc. Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng led the way by grabbing 10 huge rebounds and blocking 3 shots. Offensively, guard Russ Smith was the spearhead as he scored 17 points off the bench. In the final minutes of the game, New Mexico made a charge, but Louisville was able to hold them off and won the game 59-56.

Their third round matchup against Michigan State served as Louisville's finest hour. In a dominating performance, the Cardinals downed top seeded Michigan State 57-44. Thanks to Gorgui Dieng's dominant performance, 7 blocks 9 rebounds, the red birds were able to hold Michigan State to 28% shooting on the day. Dieng's inspired play totally threw off the Spartan offense. Louisville held Spartans forward Draymond Green to just 5/16 shooting. The Cardinals played more uptempo than usual which forced Michigan State to commit 15 turnovers in the game. Offensively, Behanan was the man as he scored 15 points on 6/10 shooting. 

Billy Donovan's Florida Gators provided the Cardinals with their biggest test to date in their fourth tournament game. Unlike the first three games, this was a shootout, as both teams shot over 45% on the day. In the first half of the game, Louisville's defense went array as the Gators led at half 41-33. The Cardinals were scorched from the perimeter in the first half, allowing Florida to hit 8/11 from downtown. However, coach Rick Pitino made quality halftime adjustments and the Cardinals held Florida to 0/9 shooting on 3's in the second half. Down 11 at the 8:33 mark of the second half, Louisville flipped a switch. They ended up winning the second half 39-27. Unlike the first half, the Cardinals were able to get stops down the stretch. The biggest play of the game was a Florida traveling violation, caused by the Louisville defense, with 17 seconds in the game. Offensively, Russ Smith and Behannan led the way with 19 points and 17 points respectively. Louisville's offense was great, but their defense won them the game in the second half. Holding Florida to 27 second half points and 0/9 shooting from downtown allowed Louisville to make their run to victory.

Overall, this is not the most talented team in the country. They aren't deep, they don't have a surefire NBA lottery pick and they don't have a dominant scorer. That being said, this team has heart, and a lot of it. Louisville plays great defense and scraps together enough points to win games. They give their all in every game and their hard work has paid off. They will now play the number one overall seeded Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats are a great team in every sense of the phrase. They boast star player, athleticism and an experienced coach. Louisville is not favored to win this game. They are not favored by many to win the National Championship. They don't care. Louisville wasn't even supposed to be in the Final Four. Many picked them as a first round upset special. They're the Cinderella of this years NCAA Tournament. Given their legendary coach and dominant defense, it's not a sure thing that the clock will strike midnight on this Louisville Cardinal team.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in New Orleans, LA.   

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